Filip Helander happy to be playing his part in rock-solid Rangers defence

Filip Helander tries to hold off the attentions of Chris Burke during Rangers' comfortable win against Kilmarnock. Picture: Jane Barlow/PAFilip Helander tries to hold off the attentions of Chris Burke during Rangers' comfortable win against Kilmarnock. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA
Filip Helander tries to hold off the attentions of Chris Burke during Rangers' comfortable win against Kilmarnock. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA
After a long time on the sidelines, Swedish defender thrilled to feature in Ibrox side’s fine run

There are two faces of Rangers right now. In attacking areas, Steven Gerrard’s side are getting through, but in a state of flux. At the back, meanwhile, they are in a state of grace.

Uncertainty reigns at the top end of the pitch. Alfredo Morelos’s head is gone as the move he desires seems forever out of reach. As a result, he made it “easy” for Gerrard to jettison him from the squad that reeled in the win over Kilmarnock on Saturday. Ryan Kent is probably more likely to depart in the immediate term, with reports that Leeds United are readying a £14 million bid for the weekend scorer after being rebuffed when lodging a £10m offer.

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A first goal on his first start for Kemar Roofe – sharing frontline duties with the club’s other new attacker pushing for fitness in Cedric Itten – ended the Rugby Park side’s attempts to pick off a point with their rope-a-dope strategy, but Gerrard has work to do to get his team functioning fluently in forward areas.

In defence, meanwhile, the Ibrox men are purring along in the Premiership they currently head up like a Rolls Royce. It seemed, initially, that the addition of Leon Balogun at centre-back had helped them buttress their defences. Yet with the Nigerian out injured in recent weeks, Filip Helander has stepped in without any loss of backline security.

And at Ibrox on Saturday the Swedish international – sidelined from December with a problematic foot injury – played his part as Rangers racked up a fifth consecutive clean sheet to equal the best run of shut-outs from the start of a season in the club’s history.
A record they will have the chance to eclipse when travelling to Hamilton on Saturday.

Aside from a couple of chances in the 3-0 win over St Johnstone 11 days ago, Rangers have barely threatened to cough up a goal. The back four and goalkeeper have all played their parts in that, with Jon McLaughlin faultless in deputising for Allan McGregor. It must be acknowledged, mind you, that almost all opponents of both the Glasgow title rivals – Hamilton Accies the exception – seem to have practically given up looking to attack them in any concerted fashion.

Helander won’t be fussed about that fact. The 27-year-old is merely relishing the chance to play football again after losing nine months of his career, in effect. First an injury sustained in December’s League Cup final and then the shut-down, which meant continuing his rehab back in his native Sweden

“It was kind of the worst moment for me,” said the £3.5m summer 2019 signing from Bologna. “I was out for a long time and when I came back there was coronavirus. There was a big break and I wasn’t able to play, so it was a long time without football. That is never good and in many ways it’s tougher mentally than physically.

“Of course, I spoke to the manager during the time I was injured and I was at the training ground every day trying to work hard. I was there when the guys arrived and I was there when they went home. When you are injured you have longer days. You are just around the training ground and you have your rehab to do. Being around the team helped a lot, I still felt involved. When you don’t feel involved then it’s harder. You feel as though you are far away from everything, you don’t feel like a football player anymore. But the club have been helping me a lot. I have been injured before, but perhaps not like this and for this length of time. I am back and the more I play the better the performances will be.”

Rangers can’t improve upon their outcomes in defence, but merely stick to what is working. Even if changing names. “You feel very proud of such an achievement, but it’s not about only the defence,” said Helander. “It’s about the whole team and the work that everyone is putting in. From the strikers down to the keepers, everyone is working hard.

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“You have to understand it’s not just about the defenders and goalkeeper, everyone is working hard in training. There is a real focus on what we’re trying to do defensively.

“We are trying to play the same way, even if it’s with different people. At the moment it’s me and Connor [Goldson] but Leon started the season and George [Edmundson] still has to come in, too. There is genuine competition and that is better for all.

“Guys coming in tend to adapt very quickly and that is down to the hard work we are putting in.”

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